Ruderman foundation ends disability giving, opens void in Jewish inclusion

AuthorASAF SHALEV/JTA
Publication Date23 February 2021
Based in Boston, but active across the United States and in Israel, the foundation has doled out some $75 million over the past 18 years to support inclusion. Just this month — Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month — the foundation is credited with sponsoring a virtual reading of a children's book with Chabad and collaborating with Boston's Jewish federation to make synagogues more welcoming to people with disabilities.

But now the future for such efforts — and for the foundation's $160 million in assets — is unclear. While advocates say the Ruderman foundation has changed the conversation in the Jewish world about disability, the foundation itself has decided to end its giving around inclusion issues.

The family foundation announced the change in a news release in September that drew little attention. It said its investments had paid off and the original mission of igniting a process of social change had been accomplished.

"We felt when we decided to transition onto our next focus that we should do it in a strategic and transparent way," Jay Ruderman, the foundation's president, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. "The announcement was to tell the community that we feel that we have reached a milestone and that we have achieved certain successes in the field."

Those accomplishments are unmistakable to many in the field.

"The Rudermans deserve tremendous credit for bringing the issue of Jewish disability inclusion forward," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, a disability advocacy group. "They have done outstanding work and created many leadership opportunities and services."

At the same time, Mizrahi said, the foundation's decision to withdraw has injected uncertainty for the many people who gained jobs or essential support because of Ruderman-funded initiatives.

"Today we are being flooded with emails of Jews with disabilities who want ongoing involvement and support, as well as Jewish professionals who want to continue to advance Jewish inclusion," Mizrahi said.

Dozens of Jewish organizations have benefited from the foundation's giving, meaning that the impact of Ruderman's change in direction could be widespread.

Within the Conservative movement, for example, disability work ramped up about six years ago with the help of the Rudermans. Dozens of congregations got guidance on how to upgrade their entryways and restrooms, and rabbis committed to speaking about disability issues from the pulpit. The United...

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